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Kaiser behavioral health care on the hot seat after California complaints

Cathie Anderson, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In an unexpected move, the California Department of Mental Health Care informed Kaiser Permanente that it will be examining whether the company is providing adequate mental health care services to its 9.4 million California members.

“This non-routine survey is based on complaints received from enrollees, providers, and other stakeholders concerning the plan’s behavioral health operations,” said Amanda Levy, the department’s deputy director of health policy and stakeholder relations.

Levy said regulators would evaluate Kaiser’s internal and external provider networks, timely access to care, processes for intake and follow-up appointments, appointment scheduling processes, levels of care and associated decision-making processes, medical record documentation and retention practices, and monitoring of urgent appointments.

Leaders of Kaiser Permanente issued a statement through Steve Shivinsky, the director of national media relations. In part, he said: “We appreciate the DMHC’s interest and accountability in understanding how we are working to deliver clinically appropriate care to those who rely on us for their mental health services. We welcome the opportunity to review our performance and collaborate on new areas for improvement.”

Kaiser’s mental health clinicians, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, have complained that their clients face weeks-long waits before they can get successive appointments and grueling schedules that leave clinicians little time to write notes or to connect patients to wraparound services.

“We have been pushing Kaiser Permanente to increase staffing and invest more in behavioral health care so that we can actually address the needs of our patients, but Kaiser keeps refusing,” said psychologist Ken Rogers, a leader for the union in the Sacramento region. “Hopefully this investigation will finally force Kaiser to stop denying that it’s failing its behavioral health patients and start working with us to improve its services.”

 

In news release issued Thursday, union leaders pointed to past fines and settlement agreements that the health care giant had signed with the Department of Managed Health Care, including one from 2013 when the company agreed to pay $4 million and to take corrective actions after the agency found it had failed to provide timely access to mental health care.

State records also show that regulators found issues with timely access to behavioral health services and availability of the care during a routine survey in 2016, but by 2019, Kaiser had instituted a corrective action plan that regulators said was working to alleviate the issues.

Regulators cited Kaiser for seven other deficiencies in the 2019 survey, mainly focused on how the company handled consumer complaints and monitored whether they were effectively resolved.

Regulators were conducting a follow-up inspection to determine whether Kaiser had corrected these deficiencies when it announced the non-routine survey to determine whether the company complied with laws requiring timely access to behavioral health care.

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